The hour has come for Christian Education to make a U-Turn and refocus on family-oriented ministry.
the changing face of christian education
by Barry Raper
It is incredibly scary how quickly children grow up and change. If parents spend any length of time away from their children, changes seem to happen overnight—even in appearance! Even though Christian education has been around for centuries, both Christian education and youth ministry as vocational ministries are relatively new—children—in the unfolding history of the church. And this child (Christian Education/Youth Ministry) is changing appearance quickly.
Family-Based Ministry. For example, some encouraging shifts are taking place in youth ministry. One major shift is the move to a more family-based approach. The current pattern of segregating youth from the life of the broader church body as a whole has proven to be unhealthy, and the Church is taking note.
Mark DeVries spoke out in 1993 when he published Family-Based Youth Ministry. Voddie Baucham Jr. recently hit the same note in Family-Driven Faith.
Local Church Focus. People are also seeing that the local church really does matter. Spiritual disciplines such as Bible study, memorization, prayer, fasting, silence, etc., have always been a means of equipping people to grow on their own in the Lord. However, these disciplines were never meant to be isolated from others.
This is clearly seen in James Wilhoit’s Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community. Donald Whitney underscored the same principle in his 1996 book Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church. These books champion the importance of interpersonal spiritual formation in and through the Body of Christ, as expressed through the local church.
Philosophical shifts in ministry are not the only changes happening. Several cultural forces are at work causing Christian educators to look hard at how cultural developments and habits are shaping us. Consider media intake as an example.
Media Immersion. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, cites a report in his blog indicating “the average child in America now spends 45 hours a week immersed in media—a multiple of the hours spent with parents or in the classroom. Parents and educators must stop to consider not only what their children and teens are exposed to in terms of content, but also how this immersion is shaping their sensibilities.
Media in-and-of-itself is not the problem. However, it is not uncommon to encounter people of all ages not just using media, but primarily being used by media. And one of the main ways people, especially youth, are being used by media is the way we receive, process, and apply information.
Our day-to-day experience is filled with juxtapositions that are mentally jarring and most often unrelated. We move from information to information without thinking things through or considering how they are related. In short, we live in an increasingly fragmented society. This touches on every aspect of the Christian life. However, it particularly touches on the area of reading and interpreting the Bible.
Slide Toward Pagan Culture. This cultural development must be viewed in context of an increasingly pagan culture. Numerous studies reveal that American culture in general is more illiterate when it comes to rudimentary knowledge of the Bible. In a recent article from Christianity Today, Brian Lowery claims, “Biblical literacy has reached a new low.”
What is his basis for such a claim? Not a new Barna update, but an update of the top five Google searches for January 9 after the BCS championship game between Florida and Oklahoma when Tim Tebow displayed John 3:16 written under his eyes in black. Lowery’s point is that in decades past most Americans would have known what John 3:16 was without having to look it up on a Google search.
Disappearing Biblical Knowledge. The article argues that the base line of biblical knowledge in America has moved back even further—showing that we have to start back further in our teaching of the Bible. We cannot assume a certain base level knowledge of the Bible. This is not only true of non-believers, but even proves to be the case for the evangelical church in America.
In prior decades there was a wider base of biblical knowledge. This was true not only for Christians, but also for the wider American culture. As Bible knowledge goes down, we must take great pains to help people “put together” the whole picture of the history of redemption. We have to work harder to do this inside the church. We not only live in an increasingly biblically illiterate society, but we are all part of a way of life that presents and receives information in fragments.
These fragments are sometimes never related or connected. Over time, people come to view the world and reality this way. If we are not careful, we will teach our people, especially our children and teens, in a way that hinders their ability to develop a biblical worldview.
Paul tells Timothy to “Think over what I say for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” This instruction from 2 Timothy 2:7 to “think over” God’s revelation is nearly impossible to carry out in an electronically charged and plugged-in culture. It is not my contention that media automatically makes thinking about the words of God impossible, because that would clearly not be the case.
Harness the Media. In fact, we communicate to others by email or by phone or by posts, and in many of these we both send and receive messages that either allude to or contain scriptures. Once again, it (media) is a tool, technology we can and should use for the glory of God. I can be exhorted or encouraged in some way, in my ordinary routine, through an email or call on my cell phone.
I can, however, quickly move on to the next piece of information as it comes my way. I can click the button and move to the next thing in an email, which does not allow time for the truth of God to sink in.
Discipline the Mind.
Notice in Paul’s instruction that understanding will come as a gift, but only through my hard work of disciplined thinking (which obviously depends upon God through prayer). My point is that the type of thinking Paul has in mind and the type of thinking the Bible describes as meditation surely has suffered in this techno-age.
Change is all around us. Some of it is wonderful; some of it is scary. But it’s here, and so are we. Let’s embrace those changes that enable us to build stronger families, build stronger local churches, and sharpen the cutting edge of Christian education.
About the Writer: Barry Raper is program coordinator for Christian Education and Youth Ministry at Free Will Baptist Bible College. Learn more about the college at www.fwbbc.edu.